Aleixandre, Vicente (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)
Vicente Aleixandre 1898-1984
Spanish poet, critic, journalist, and editor.
Recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1977, Aleixandre was a poet of the “Generation of 1927” whose prolific output has strongly influenced the work of subsequent Spanish poets. His selection for the Nobel Prize came as a surprise to much of the literary world even though Aleixandre's first collection had appeared in Spain almost fifty years earlier and his reputation in his country was well established. Prior to 1977, Aleixandre's works available to English readers, including Vicente Aleixandre and Luis Cernuda: Selected Poems (1974) and The Cave of Night: Poems (1976), had received little notice. Critical attention abroad increased following his reception of the award, and several additional works of selected poems in translation have been published. Despite this interest and the vital role he has played in the evolution of Spanish-language poetry, the complexity of Aleixandre's work and the inherent difficulties in translating it have resulted in a limited general readership.
Aleixandre was born in Seville, Spain, and raised in Málaga, a nearby city that figures symbolically in much of his work. When he was eleven he moved with his family to Madrid, where he later received degrees in law and business administration and began a career in economic law. In 1925 Aleixandre contracted tuberculosis, thus beginning a series of illnesses that plagued him for the rest of his life. His ill health eventually forced him to abandon his career and concentrate instead on writing poetry. His first book, Ámbito (Ambit), published in 1928, was written in the tradition of poésie pure, which was characteristic of Spanish poetry in the 1920s. Around the same time, Aleixandre began to associate with Pedro Salinas, Federico García Lorca, Jorge Guillén, and other poets based in Madrid, culminating in the innovative literary movement referred to as the “Generation of 1927.” Writers in this group reacted against the provincialism of Spanish literature. They advocated poetry as a means to discover and explore the relationship between external reality and the poet's internal world, and, while they rejected sentimentality, love was a dominant theme in their works. Unlike most other writers of his generation, Aleixandre remained in Spain during the Civil War and the subsequent reign of the dictator Francisco Franco. Although never a political poet, his works were banned in the postwar years because of his antifascist beliefs and his independence from the official regime. Aleixandre's works were reinstated during the 1940s. As one of the few representatives of the earlier period still living in Spain, Aleixandre served as an inspiration to younger generations of Spanish poets, who viewed him as a great master. He continued to publish new works, including the critically heralded volumes Poemas de la consumación (1968; Poems of Consumation) and Diálogos del conocimiento (1974; Dialogues of Knowledge), the latter published when the poet was seventy-six years old. Aleixandre died in 1984.
Most of Aleixandre's poetry can be divided into three periods. The first includes Pasión del la tierra (1935; Passion of the Earth), La destrucción o el amor (1935; Destruction or Love), and Mundo a solas (1950; World Alone). Most of the poems in these collections were written just prior to or during the Spanish Civil War, but they do not reflect the events of the time. Rather, they use surrealistic imagery to present a cosmic, mystical vision of the world. Aleixandre's thematic focus during this period centers on the elemental forces of the human mind, a yearning for the solace of nature, and the inextricable connection between love and death and between the forces of creation and destruction. In contrast to Ámbito, these volumes are more complexly constructed free verse, in which Aleixandre's sweeping, passionate meditations are given freer rein. Aleixandre's first post-Civil War collection, Sombra del paraíso (1944; Shadow of Paradise), is a transitional volume leading to the second phase of his career. Poems in the middle period, which include those from Historia del corazón (1954; History of the Heart) and En un vasto dominio (1962; In a Vast Dominion), share with earlier ones a nostalgia for the lost union between humanity and nature, but a dramatic shift in focus is evident. Previously, Aleixandre had looked inside the individual, rejecting historical and social reality. During the middle period he reached outward, emphasizing temporal and physical connections between the self and the surrounding world and projecting a universal compassion for humanity. With a firmer grounding in earthly reality, surreal imagery and irrationalist techniques gave way to a more direct approach in which the affirmation of love predominates. In Aleixandre's final period, consisting of Poems of Consumation and Dialogues of Knowledge, he attempted to comprehend the depths and limitations of human knowledge, a process marked by emotional intensity and somber brooding.
Aleixandre described his poetry as a “longing for the light.” Many critics, and the poet himself, have noted the influence of Freudian psychoanalysis on Aleixandre's exploration of the hidden passions and driving forces that operate beneath the surface of consciousness. Lewis Hyde, one of Aleixandre's translators, observed in his introduction to Twenty Poems (1977) that a desire to explore “the strong under-tow beneath the accelerating tide of rationalism” connects Freud, surrealism, and the early poetry of Aleixandre. Of Aleixandre's poems, Hyde says: “[They] are not an affirmation. They are not working out a full and nourishing surreality, but away from the reality at hand. That … is part of their tension—they are the reflective mind trying to think its way out of coherence and precision.”
Ámbito [Ambit] (poetry) 1928
Espadas como labios [Swords Like Lips] (poetry) 1932
La destrucción o el amor [Destruction or Love] (poetry) 1935
Pasión de la tierra [Passion of the Earth] (poetry) 1935
Sombra del paraíso [Shadow of Paradise] (poetry) 1944
Algunos caracteres de la poesía española contemporanea [Some Characteristics of Contemporary Spanish Poets] (criticism) 1945
Mundo a solas [World Alone] (poetry) 1950
Poemas paradisiacos [Poems of Paradise] (poetry) 1952
Nacimiento último [Final Birth] (poetry) 1953
Historia de corazón [History of the Heart] (poetry) 1954
Mis poemas mejores [My Best Poems] (poetry) 1956
Los encuentros [The Meetings] (critical and biographical sketches) 1958
Poemas amorosos [Love Poems] (poetry) 1960
Poesías competas [Complete Poems] (poetry) 1960
Antigua casa madrileña [Ancient Madrid House] (poetry) 1961
Picasso (poetry) 1961
En un vasto dominio [In a Vast Dominion] (poetry) 1962
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SOURCE: “The Early Works,” in Vicente Aleixandre, Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1970, pp. 65-80.
[In the following essay, Schwartz presents an overview of Aleixandre's early poetry.]
Ambito (Ambit), Aleixandre's first volume of poetry, was composed between 1924 and 1927. It went to press in the summer of 1927, appearing the following year in Litoral, the poetry review of Emilio Prados and Manuel Altolaguirre in Málaga. Ambit, supposedly a marginal work in the author's production, is somewhat related to Shadow of Paradise, to be published years later. Composed of seven sections plus eight “Nights,” including an initial and final “Night” and one “Sea,” it contains classical and gongoristic forms, not unexpected at the time, since it was partly composed during the tercentenary of Góngora when baroque formalism ruled the day. One can find a minor delicate reminiscence of the poetry of Juan Ramón Jiménez. Nature is everywhere, but although there is a faint reflection of the cosmic force, the poet is largely descriptive and objective in a somewhat traditional way. He contemplates nature as in later works he will seek to possess her and be one with her. Written during his illness, the book sensually examines the fleeting aspects of time. Within his own boundary, the limits of his sickroom where he lived a solitary...
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SOURCE: “La destrucción and Mundo a solas,” in Vicente Aleixandre, Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1970, pp. 81-98.
[In the following essay, Schwartz examines major themes in Destruction or Love and World Alone.]
I LA DESTRUCCIóN O EL AMOR
Manuel Machado, Gerardo Diego, and Dámaso Alonso were members of the jury which awarded the National Prize to La destrucción o el amor (Destruction or Love). In granting the award they found “the novelty is in the themes, in the landscape, in the image—many times, nevertheless, more reducible to reality than that of the previous book: a total renovation of the expressive means of language, which characterizes the entire work of the poet. …”1
One may view Aleixandre's poetry as both a reply to nature and a call to the original forces of life. The poet offers us a visionary transfiguration of the world in flux, a world of mystery and darkness at times, whose basic fabric is erotic love. Aleixandre proclaims here his romantic concept of love and the universe and sees the latter as a place of cosmic and human passion, of a frustrated and desperate clamor, and of unchained telluric forces which often prove fatal to man, absorbing him and destroying him. For Aleixandre men can obtain love only by destroying themselves and fusing with the cosmos, for human love is fleeting,...
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SOURCE: “Nobel Lecture,” in Vicente Aleixandre: A Critical Appraisal, edited by Santiago Daydí-Tolson, Bilingual Press, 1977, pp. 35-40.
[In the following lecture, which Aleixandre originally delivered at his acceptance of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1977, the poet expresses his gratitude and discusses his major poetic influences.]
At a moment like this, so important in the life of a man of letters, I should like to express in the most eloquent words at my command the emotion that a human being feels and the gratitude he experiences in the face of an event such as that which is taking place today. I was born in a middle-class family, but I had the benefit of its eminently open and liberal outlook. My restless spirit led me to practice contradictory professions. I was a teacher of mercantile law, an employee in a railway company, a financial journalist. From early youth this restlessness of which I have spoken lifted me to one particular delight: reading and, in time, writing. At the age of 18 the apprentice poet began to write his first verses, sketched out in secret amid the turmoil of a life which, because it had not yet found its true axis, I might call adventurous. The destiny of my life, its direction, was determined by a bodily weakness. I became seriously ill, of a chronic complaint. I had to abandon all my other concerns, those which I might call corporal, and to retreat to the...
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SOURCE: “Nature and Society in the Poetry of Vicente Aleixandre,” in Texas Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 4, 1978, pp. 206-14.
[In the following essay, González-Gerth discusses the dichotomy of nature and man in Aleixandre's poetry.]
Vicente Aleixandre has been writing poetry for over half a century. To date he has written over thirty books and pamphlets of verse, and his collected poems and prose writings comprise two very substantial volumes. He belongs to an outstanding generation of Spanish poets, called the generation of 1927 because that year marked the tercentenary of Luis de Góngora's death and many young poets of the time visited Seville, where the Baroque master is buried, and gathered at the local Athenaeum to hold a ceremony. It was as if Spanish poetry, while reacting to the latest European literary currents, were self-consciously reaching back in its own history and tradition to rediscover the metaphorical genius of Góngora. For metaphor was indeed the poetic currency of the day.
One of the immediate models, perhaps the main one, for the Spanish poets of 1927 was Juan Ramón Jiménez. In his Segunda antolojía poética, which had appeared in 1922, at the end of the book, there is a number of aphorisms and final notes written in prose. Those statements and much of the poetry in the volume together constitute a sort of new ars poetica which is a milestone in...
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SOURCE: “World Alone: A Cosmovision and Metaphor of Absent Love,” in Critical Views on Vicente Aleixandre's Poetry, edited by Vincente Cabrera and Harriet Boyer, Society of Spanish and Spanish-American Studies, 1979, pp. 53-70.
[In the following essay, Cabrera examines the pessimism in World Alone, noting how it fits into the larger vision of Aleixandre's works.]
The poetic work of Vicente Aleixandre from Passion of the Earth up to Shadow of Paradise,1 which makes up his first and perhaps richest period,2 is characterized as much by the unity of the elemental and cosmic conception of its theme as by the coherent and imaginative homogeneity of its diction. This substructure of vision and diction on which the poetry of this period rests is the result of an ongoing evolution in which each book becomes an outgrowth of the former one; that is, a lyrical step forward which, deriving from the earlier work, consolidates a new poetic vision. This evolution, however, is interrupted with the appearance of Shadow of Paradise, a work which, although it remains within the cosmic and elemental vision of the others, stylistically represents a change which had not previously occurred, for example, between Passion of the Earth and Swords like Lips, or between the latter and Destruction or Love, the work immediately preceding Shadow of...
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SOURCE: “Vicente Aleixandre in the Context of Modern Poetry,” in Symposium, Vol. 33, 1979, pp. 118-41.
[In the following essay, Fernández-Morera offers an appraisal of Aleixandre's poetry in the context of modern poetry outside of Spain.]
“Spanish surrealist poet little known outside the Spanish speaking world,” “A poet the world had forgotten.”1 Thus the New York and London Times spoke about the recipient of the 1977 Nobel Prize for literature. A weary Hispanist might observe that Aleixandre is not only a surrealist poet; and that, if Spain is part of the world, Aleixandre is not a poet the world had forgotten. He might add that in 1949 Aleixandre was elected to the Spanish Academy, that in the forties, fifties, sixties, and seventies he was the object of important literary homages in Spain, and that poet-critics as different yet as exacting as Jorge Luis Borges and Luis Cernuda have agreed on his excellence. But the widely-read assessment of these newspapers, although superficial, is partly correct; and it calls attention to the necessity of placing Aleixandre in a context broader than that of the Spanish language.
When Aleixandre's Ámbito appeared in 1928, it was hailed by Juan Ramón Jiménez as the best book written by the young poets of Spain. This praise is significant for two reasons. First, because Jiménez, who would himself win the Nobel...
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SOURCE: “The Isakower Phenomenon and the Dream Screen,” in Critical Views on Vicente Aleixandre's Poetry, edited by Vincente Cabrera and Harriet Boyer, Society of Spanish and Spanish-American Studies, 1979, pp. 39-46.
[In the following essay, Schwartz discusses the symbolism of the subconscious in Aleixandre's poetry.]
Much of the early poetry of Vicente Aleixandre reveals his view of nature and the world through subjective connotations which relate to a number of conflicts, anxieties, and unconscious fantasies. The poet clarifies some of this poetry, rooted in his unconscious depths, by combining creative and destructive impulses in the apparently ambivalent equation that love equals death. In spite of juxtaposing these and other dissimilarities, Aleixandre, through his very disorientation, which simulates the psychic processes themselves, and by indulging in a kind of free association, transmutes into artistic and understandable form a variety of thinly disguised wishes.
The sea, probably the most prevalent symbol of his poetry, stresses one important aspect of that subconscious process. Undoubtedly, during Aleixandre's youth, Málaga impressed the sea on his consciousness. Water (along with the sea and ocean) in dreams has the symbolic meaning of mother, and, in association with youthful innocence, happiness, and the breast, it is constantly used with this meaning in Aleixandre's...
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SOURCE: “Eros and Thanatos: The Poetry of Vicente Aleixandre—Surrealism or Freudianism?”, in Vicente Aleixandre: A Critical Appraisal, edited by Santiago Daydí-Tolson, Bilingual Press, 1981, pp. 200-20.
[In the following essay, Schwartz questions the influence of surrealism on Aleixandre, suggesting instead that the poet may have been more swayed by early psychoanalytic theory.]
Dámaso Alonso states that Vicente Aleixandre may have helped initiate surrealism in Spain without any intention of doing so. He denies that Aleixandre had any knowledge of the French school.1 Other critics qualify their statements with limiting adjectives such as “telluric” or “existential” in order to define Aleixandre's surrealism and to make a connection between what is obviously a personal spiritual and psychological projection and broader literary manifestations. Ricardo Gullón believes that Aleixandre's surrealism is neither French nor complete.2 Carlos Bousoño also agrees that Aleixandre's surrealism “no fue nunca puro—ni aun en Pasión de la tierra—cada vez lo había de ser menos.”3 José Luis Cano also points out that Pasión de la tierra, written in 1928-1929, which seems to resemble the French school, was partly composed before the Spanish poet's contact with French writers.4 Even among those accepting Aleixandre's complete surrealism,...
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SOURCE: “Spiritual Coincidences between Marc Chagall and Vincente Aleixandre,” in Neohelicon, Vol. 14, No. 1, 1987, pp. 193-207.
[In the following essay, Revilla finds similarities in the respective artistic visions of Aleixandre and the painter Marc Chagall.]
There are apparently few common features between the biography of Marc Chagall, a “total artist” he may be, but above all a painter, and that of Vicente Aleixandre the poet and 1977 Nobel Prize winner. Indeed one can claim that the lives of the two men are absolutely different. Chagall, a Russian Jew, grew up in and was formed by Hassidism, a faith which imprinted an indelible mark upon him, even if in his mature years he abandoned the faith of his fathers without any spiritual crisis. Aleixandre is a middle class Spaniard with a certain skepticism towards his milieu's catholicism. Chagall had wandered through the whole world before he settled down and eventually chose France for his second fatherland, never losing his affection for his native Russia. Aleixandre never traveled: he lived a sedentary life, almost rooted in a few concrete parts of his country, always careful of the necessities demanded by what he used to call his “band iron health”, his “mala slud de hierro”. Chagall married twice: two happy experiences of felicity which decisively influenced his cosmic vision. Aleixandre remained a bachelor.
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SOURCE: “Pure Poetry, Phenomenology and Vicente Aleixandre's Ámbito,” in Revista Hispanica Moderna, Vol. 45, No. 1, June, 1992, pp. 45-59.
[In the following essay, Poust argues that Ámbito represents common ground between purist poets and phenomenologists.]
Vicente Aleixandre's ambivalence with regard to the relationship of his first book, Ámbito (1928), to his poetic creation as a whole, centers on his interpretation of this work as “traditional” (“A la segunda edición de La destrucción o el amor,” Obras 1442). According to Aleixandre, the “revolutionary” second work, Pasión de la tierra (written in 1928-29, published in Mexico in 1935), broke with the traditional, initiating a poetic evolution that left Ámbito behind and somewhat marginalized, that is, until the appearance of Sombra del paraíso (1944) (1442-44). Sombra del paraíso's reformulation of themes, structures and concerns first seen in Ámbito, confirmed, for the poet, the latter work's place within his poetic evolution and, at the same time, reconciled the revolutionary and the traditional: “… en poesía, … la línea revolucionaria, si de veras genuina, acaba mostrando ser, haber sido, la única línea tradicional” (1444).
Aleixandre's understanding of the evolutionary nature of his poetry, an evolution that began in a...
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SOURCE: “Phenomenological Hermeneutics and Vicente Aleixandre's Self-Reading,” in Revista de Estudios Hispanicos, Vol. 26, No. 3, October, 1992, pp. 32-43.
[In the following essay, Poust contends that Aleixandre's belief that his works represented a unified poetic whole aligns with the conception of “phenomenological hermeneutics.”]
While the celebration of multiple beings and perspectives within a united world is one of the best-known aspects of Vicente Aleixandre's poetry, the Spanish poet's insistence that his diverse poetic works constitute a unified corpus has received little critical attention in its own right. For the most part, Aleixandre's attitude toward his own writing has been taken into account by critics only as it illustrates his world view. I propose, however, that Aleixandre's belief in the unity of his poetic works is as significant for his understanding of literature as his belief in the unity of all creation is for his understanding of the world. Indeed, Aleixandre's presupposition of the unity of his work underlies several key aspects of his self-reading, such as his tendency to interpret the sense or meaning of his poetry, his emphasis on the stylistic and thematic evolution of his work, the recognition of his multiple perspectives on the world and the consciousness of his poetry's dialogue with tradition. This combination of elements, all of which reinforce the idea of...
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SOURCE: “Phenomenological Traces in Vicente Aleixandre's Sombra del Paraíso,” in Symposium, Vol. 47, No. 1, Spring, 1993, pp. 36-49.
[In the following essay, Poust examines Aleixandre's notion of the evolution of unity in his poetic works.]
Vicente Aleixandre's understanding of the intertextual dynamics of his works stresses Sombra del paraíso's key role in ensuring the coherence of his poetic creation. Soon after the work's completion in 1944, Aleixandre described it as “el último eslabón de una cadena evolutiva” initiated in 1928-29 with Pasión de la tierra (2: 523). Twelve years later, a retrospective glance at Sombra del paraíso revealed to the poet signs of the existential concern developed most fully in his recent work, Historia del corazón (1954) (2: 552). In addition to recognizing Sombra's role in maintaining the evolutionary flow of his poetry, Aleixandre attributes to it the restoration of his prodigal first work, Ambito (1928), to the otherwise united body of his poetic creation. In light of the poetic course described by Pasión de la tierra, Espadas como labios (1932), and La destrucción o el amor (1935), Aleixandre had come to view Ambito as marginalized, belonging more to a period of Spanish literature, than to his personal poetic history (2: 522-523, 527). His mature work, Sombra del...
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SOURCE: “May I Have This Dance? Unveiling Vicente Aleixandre's ‘El Vals’”, in Romanic Review, Vol. 85, No. 2, March, 1994, pp. 313-26.
[In the following essay, Graf argues that Aleixandre's “El vals” suggests a linguistic and thematic sophistication in the poet's works that most critics fail to recognize.]
Un pájaro de papel en el pecho dice que el tiempo de los besos no ha llegado vivir vivir el sol cruje invisible besos o pájaros tarde o pronto o nunca
—Vicente Aleixandre (“Vida”)
Due to the supposed obscurity of his text, critical approaches to Vicente Aleixandre have remained tentative, at times even fearful. Rarely do we encounter analyses that rise above generalized thematic explorations or sporadic stylistic commentaries. For over fifty years critics have suggested a hidden coherence to Aleixandre while evading in-depth, concrete explications of individual poems.1 For example, both Paul Ilie and Kessel Schwartz agree that “each poem in itself may be incomprehensible, but as a group they reveal certain motifs and patterns” (Ilie 109, Schwartz 204). Such collective approaches, although not without merit, have tended to devalue specific interpretations that may open Aleixandre's text to new possibilities. To compound this problem, and perhaps as a result, critics have often portrayed Aleixandre as a relatively unsophisticated artist....
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Beltrán de Heredia, Pablo. “Vicente Aleixandre: Another Universal Andalusian.” Texas Quarterly 21, No. 4 (1978): 176-82.
Appraises Aleixandre's career up to his Nobel Prize award and compares his work to that of other Andalusian writers.
Harris, Derek. “The Shadow of Paradise in Aleixandre's Espadas como labios.” In Essays in Honour of Robert Brian Tate from His Colleagues and Pupils, edited by Richard A. Cardwell, pp. 38-45. Nottingham, England: University of Nottingham Monographs in the Humanities, 1984.
Examines contradictory elements in Espadas como labios to unearth ambiguous levels of meaning in the book.
———. “Vicente Aleixandre: Glass Hair, Metal Butterfly.” In Metal Butterflies and Poisonous Lights: The Language of Surrealism in Lorca, Alberti, Cernuda, and Aleixandre, pp. 203-40. Arncroach, Anstruther, Scotland: La Sirena, 1998.
Discusses surrealism and irrationalism in Aleixandre's poetry.
Ilie, Paul. “Descent and Castration (Aleixandre).” In The Surrealist Mode in Spanish Literature: An Interpretation of Basic Trends from Post-Romanticism to the Spanish Vanguard, pp. 40-56. Ann Arbor, Michigan.: University of Michigan Press, 1968.
Presents an overview of Aleixandre's place in modern Spanish...
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